Love Thy Neighbor?
Co-organized by Travis Neel and Richard Godden
Whether as a figure of intimate proximity, moral obligation, psychoanalytic anxiety, or a metaphor for a literary history that eschews the genealogical, the medieval neighbor has long lurked on the margins of medieval scholarship. Recently, Slavoj Zizek, Eric Santner, and Kenneth Reinhard have interrogated the uncanniness that the neighbor introduces into the social field, inserting neighbor-love into conversations in political theology as discussed by Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben. In Medieval Studies, Aranye Fradenburg and George Edmundson have suggested a number of varied, challenging, and exigent ways in which the field of medieval studies can take up and complicate the injunction to love thy neighbor in medieval England. While the figure of the medieval neighbor suggests the ways in which a medieval community might be constituted, delimited, defined, and defended, the neighbor is also a reminder of the danger, aggressivity, and violence inherent in establishing communities. Although the neighbor might stand surety, serve as a witness, be most likely to enter into a trothplight, or offer mutual aid and support in a time of need, the neighbor was also a figure of the uncanny: just as likely to appear in the assize of nuisance, to commit murder, to discover a corpse, or to threaten, violate, or usurp an individual’s person, family, or property.
This special session invites papers examining the status of and discourses around medieval neighbors, neighborliness, and neighbor-love. We solicit papers from all disciplines and national traditions. Questions to consider may include but are certainly not limited to:
Who was considered a neighbor?
What degree of proximity, care, or relationality was required to be a neighbor?
What were the legal obligations mandating relations among neighbors?
How far did the injunction to love thy neighbor extend?
To what extent did the language of neighbor-love extend to foreigners and enemies or to figures of cultural, religious, and embodied difference?
What discourses were mobilized to promote, spread, and also constrain the love for and of the neighbor?